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Ali is not the greatest, says Frazier

MUHAMMAD Ali described his third and final fight with Joe Frazier as "death."

"Closest thing to dyin' that I know of," he said.

Frazier recalls their brutal matchup outside Manila as something much less grandiose. "We just did our job," he said.

The two great heavyweights always have been the yin and yang of boxing. Why should things change nearly 35 years later?

Now 65 and walking with the use of a cane, the slightly stooped Frazier reflected on the iconic fight in Quezon City in 1975 during a wide-ranging interview. He also talked about the contentious relationship between the starring characters, which is the subject of the new HBO documentary "Thrilla in Manila" premiering today.

"I don't think Manila was my greatest fight," Frazier said forcefully.

He ticks off several others in vivid detail, from the Golden Gloves to his gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, to the "Fight of the Century" - when he beat Ali at Madison Square Garden in 1971 to retain the heavyweight title.

"The greatest fight was '71, when we were all undefeated," he said. "There was more money, more people. I don't know why they make this one out to be the biggest fight."

When it comes to his longtime foil, Frazier is sympathetic to the suffering Parkinson's disease has caused Ali. But as a Christian, Frazier said, he isn't surprised by it, either.

"I'm sorry that he is the way he is, but I didn't have too much to do with it. It was the good man above," Frazier said. "Maybe I did have a little to do with it, but God judges, you know what I'm saying? We don't have the power to judge that the man has above."

Arrogant boasts

Frazier believes that Ali's arrogant boasts of "I am the greatest!" were "a slap in the Lord's face," and that he did the same to his family when he changed his name from Cassius Clay to reflect his Muslim beliefs. "I respect him as a guy who did a fine job in the fight game," Frazier said. "I don't think he really loves me. I didn't like nothing he done, you know?"

That lingering tension can be traced to their epic trilogy, which turned former friends into enemies and culminated with the Araneta Coliseum event outside Manila.

It was the rubber match between two bigger-than-life heavyweights on the decline, Ali having beaten Frazier in their 1974 rematch. Following that bout, the tongue-whipping Ali regained the title by beating George Foreman in Zaire, the famed "Rumble in the Jungle."

The animosity that grew over the pair's first two fights reached a climax when, after the Philippines bout was announced, Ali pulled out a black rubber gorilla and famously launched into a poem: "It will be a killa and a chilla and a thrilla, when I get the gorilla in Manila."

"He kept saying, 'Joe Frazier, I'm going to whup you'," Frazier recalled, still pained by the race-baiting attacks. "I said, 'Alright, I'm going to wrap your butt up.' People loved him for his noise."

For 14 rounds the two titans clashed. Ali staggered Frazier in the 12th, then again in the 13th. Even though the scorecards were virtually tied, and against Frazier's objections, his trainer Eddie Futch called a stop to the fight.

Ali later tried to make amends, calling the mocking use of a gorilla a promotional ploy, and said if "God ever calls me to a holy war, I want Joe Frazier fighting beside me."

But the wounds ran deep.

"I don't mind people want to think Muhammad is the greatest fighter around," Frazier said. "Everybody wants to make him great because of his mouth, that he was the best. He was good, but that doesn't make him great. I proved that."


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